Marquez-Pacquiao looks like even match

Updated: May 4, 2004, 11:19 AM ET
By Steve Kim |

Now that we got all the heavyweights out of the way, we can turn our attention to some real fights.

On Saturday night at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Manny Pacquiao takes on Juan Manuel Marquez for not just featherweight supremacy but for a higher place in the pound-for-pound pantheon.

On paper, it looks like one of the premier matchups of recent years.

This bout is also one of the hardest to make a call on.

It's one of those questions that I continuously flip-flop on, with no definitive answer, like who was better this year, LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony? Who makes me laugh more, Dave Chappelle or Chris Rock? Who was the best wideout at the University of Miami, Michael Irvin or Eddie Brown? In their primes, Michael Jackson or Prince? Tiffany or Debbie Gibson? Which show had the better theme song,' Diff'rent Strokes' or 'the Facts of Life'? If I had one beer to drink the rest of my life, Heineken or Guinness? Or just who really was the worst influence on each other, Bobby or Whitney?

All those questions go could either way, with compelling arguments on both sides.

Bob Arum, who knows a thing or two about promoting featherweight blockbusters, says that Pacquiao-Marquez is right up there with both Marco Antonio Barrera-Erik Morales bouts that his company promoted.

"This may be the best," said Arum, who promotes Marquez. "This certainly is up with the Morales-Barrera fights; those are obviously the best that we did. But this is such an intriguing fight because people are looking at Pacquiao, off his destruction of Barrera, which was incredible, and the question is, was Barrera so bad or Pacquiao so good or a combination of both? And I've always felt the best technical fighter in the featherweight division is Marquez."

One of the great things about this fight is that from a promotional and managerial standpoint, it goes against the book. Most fighters, after a career-defining win like the one the "Pac Man" had over Barrera last November, would go on a victory tour against lesser opponents. It's not only an accepted practice; it's expected. But Pacquiao and his people have done just the opposite by going right after the division's most dangerous foe.

"They believe, in talking with Murad and those people, that Pacquiao is the real deal and that Pacquiao can beat anybody at this weight," explains Arum, who was a bit surprised at how easily this fight was made. "They didn't want to just nurse Pacquiao around as a semi-attraction. Their great goal is, after Barrera, to beat Marquez and then have a major fight with Morales and claim supremacy over the Mexicans."

That's some hubris, Marquez as a mere steppingstone.

"If you have confidence in your guy to that extent, it's a gutsy move, I understand." Arum continued. "But Bruce Trampler (Top Rank's highly respected matchmaker) would not have made that move because we think Pacquiao's a very good fighter, but we don't think he's that good that you make a risky fight like this. But they are convinced that Pacquiao is the best thing to come down this weight or the next weight in this era."

Even Freddie Roach, who trains Pacquiao concedes that Marquez would not have been his first choice, post-Barrera.

"Stylewise, he's definitely the most trouble because of his counterpunching style," says the 2003 Trainer of the Year.

Pacquiao has no pretense in his style; he comes right at you with a whirlwind of punches from every angle with malicious intent -- which is precisely what Marquez wants. In recent years, Marquez's opponents have been so weary of being timed and countered that they have basically resorted to a pact of non-aggression against him. Marquez has had to go looking for his prey in his most recent fights. That shouldn't be a problem with Pacquiao.

Marquez looks to be the bigger fighter of the two, and unlike a Barrera, he doesn't come in with a whole lot of distractions. No management changes, no talk of his health being at risk if he continued fighting, and he has trained in relative solitude in Mexico City, with no evacuation plans needed just weeks before the fight.

He's a guy I've said for years is the best of the relatively unknown fighters, and he's finally getting his big chance and hitting his physical prime. But it's hard not to be influenced by seeing Pacquiao work out several times a week at the Wild Card Boxing Club. Living not too far off from Roach's gym, I've had an opportunity to see him ply his trade for the last several fights. Before the Barrera fight, he worked as diligently as any fighter I've ever seen, and his work ethic is at the level of a Bernard Hopkins. For this fight, he's working even harder.

"Definitely," agreed Roach, who says the Filipino is the hardest worker he's ever been around. "This kid is non-stop; the energy he brings in the gym is unbelievable. I mean he's hungry, he's not satisfied after beating Barrera, and you can see it; he's as hungry as he ever was and he's ready to fight."

For Roach, unlike most boxers, who he has to push, with Pacquiao it's about pulling in the reins.

"Sometimes I do, but I don't always have the best luck because the S.O.B. goes to the hotel room and works out," Roach says laughing. "If I don't let him do something, he'll go do it outside."

And in an age where training camps are run with the privacy and paranoia of the the CIA or KGB (and yet losing fighters still come up with conspiracy theories as to why they lost), Roach and his fighter have run a virtual open house for Pacquiao's legion of loyal Filipino fans.

It seems as the days get closer to May 8th, more and more of them are streaming in to get a glimpse of their national icon. And while some -well, most -fighters and trainers might bristle at outsiders coming into their gym, Pacquiao seems to be more gracious as the numbers grow inside the gym. Roach, for one of the few times, had instituted a closed gym policy on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays - the days wherePacquiao spars. But that only served to slow the entrance of patrons, because eventually, Roach's assistants, Macka Foley and Justin Fortune, who serves as Pacquiao's physical conditioner, just don't possess the cold hearts to shut anybody out. They'd make terrible bouncers.

"It's somewhat of a distraction," Roachsays of the overflow crowd that has been coming into his place. "But on the other hand, Manny kinda thrives and likes to perform for an audience. So it's a little distracting in one way but it helps in other ways. We're trying to keep it under control. Basically it's more for my other fighters working out here because I got 50 people in a little gym, and it gets a little bit crazy."

Judging by the adulation he receives daily, it's clear just how big a fight this is to the Filipino community. If he should topple Marquez, you get the sense that he will become the modern day Flash Elorde. But if Marquez is victorious, he adds his name to the list of great Mexican featherweights.

It's a 50-50 fight.

"Who knows who's right?" said Arum. "We'll just have to see that on May 8th."

We Got Love(more) For Cotto
In what is one of the most anticipated doubleheaders on HBO this year, hot Puerto Rican prospect Miguel Cotto takes on late replacement Lovemore Ndou, who has taken the place of Juan 'El Pollo' Valenzuela. Unlike most guys that come in at the 11th hour, Ndou could be a tougher bout than the original opponent.

"We thought Valenzuela was a very easy fight, in truth," admitted Arum. "We thought it was a very easy fight but Xavier James (of HBO Sports), who's no longer at HBO, was be-sodded with Valenzuela, and thought Valenzuela had a great shot to upset Cotto.

"We were laughing about it and when he fell out, we looked around for an opponent and according to Trampler, there's nobody at 140 that Cotto can't handle, so we didn't care who it was. Lovemore Ndou just had a fight, he was in shape and we were able to make that match. But it's a much, much tougher fight."

Ndou, since losing a disputed fight against Sharmba Mitchell in February, has racked up two successive knockout wins. Stylewise, with his length and reach, he presents much more difficulty than Valenzuela. I don't think it's too far-fetched to say that this is the best opponent that any 2000 Olympian has faced and that with a decisive win here, Cotto is ready for the big leagues.

Floyd's Future
In a few weeks Bob Arum could be concluding his up-and-down relationship with the petulant Floyd Mayweather Jr., who takes on Demarcus Corley on May 22. After the bout, their current promotional contract runs out.

"One thing about Floyd, he has always lived up to his contract;a pain in the ass, but he's never looked to break the contract or anything like that," says Arum of Mayweather, whom he's promoted since the Michigan nativeturned proin 1996. "Now, in the contract with us and with HBO, we have a right of first negotiation, so if somebody comes and offers him more money for a fight and they're prepared to put up, then not only do the other people get the fight, but we have no further hold on Mayweather. We'll discuss things after May 22nd."

The talk is that Mayweather, who gets a license fee of around $3 million - of which he gets every cent -- will have that number slashed significantly. To put that number into perspective, the total license fee for Shane Mosley -Winky Wright was about $3 million for both fighters combined.

Clemson Davis
Hey, did anyone see Kelvin Davis' tattoo on his back? (Well, of course you did, since it was impossible not to) but anyone else think that he's a Clemson Tiger fan, who grew up rooting for Perry Tuttle, Homer Jordan, Dale Davis and Danny Ford? Uh, probably not.

Davis was impressive in winning the vacant IBF cruiserweight title against Ezra Sellers. I'd love to see him fight Vassiliy Jirov (if he's still fighting at 190 pounds), a rematch with O'Neil Bell, who with his previous win over Davis, can lay claim to being one of the world's best cruisers, or a bout with WBC champion Wayne Braithwaite. Those would all be pretty good scraps.